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Although cycling fans in Britain were disappointed that we had no chance of winning this year’s Tour de France, nonetheless we enjoyed three weeks of suspense.

Thankfully, the Tour took the decision a few years ago to make it more challenging, the way it was a century ago.

Outside of Vincenzo Nibali’s reign at the top, the rest of the overall classification turned out to be as unpredictable as the stages.

From the start, favourites dropped out because of injury. Crashes were frequent. Mark Cavendish collided with Simon Gerrans near the finish line of Stage 1 in Harrogate. Cavendish went on to hospital and an urgent operation a few days later. Gerrans hung in there until Stage 17.

The crashes happen anyway, but perhaps never involved as many team leaders and other stars as this year’s. Chris Froome, last year’s winner, was out on Stage 5, causing team Sky to rethink their strategy. Andy Schleck was out on Stage 4. Alberto Contador — another favourite — crashed on Stage 10. Andrew Talansky left on Stage 12. Rui Costa dropped out on Stage 16.

The weather was surprisingly sunny in Yorkshire and unusually rainy in France. Moist tarmac and slick paving stones created havoc, causing collisions and flat tyres. Even when the sun was shining, the mountain stages — several of which were unfamiliar to the riders — proved relentless with their many steep gradients.

That said, for those riders fortunate or savvy enough to persevere until the end, the feeling of accomplishment was palpable. The overall winner of the race, Vincenzo Nibali, announced in Paris on Sunday, July 27:

Those past few days, when I was asked which one was my best moment of the Tour, I anticipated that no feeling of happiness could be compared to what we feel on the podium at the Champs-Elysées. It’s even more beautiful than what I could imagine.

Alessandro De Marchi, winner of the Combativity Prize, was at the other end of the spectrum in some ways, yet, was delighted with the result:

I’m very happy and proud to be part of the protocol ceremony on the Champs-Elysées. It’s been difficult to ride the way I did during three weeks but I want to continue racing aggressively in the future …

We have much to look forward to next year with regard to the high quality of French riders. AG2R La Mondiale won the team prize with all nine of their riders present on the podium in the Champs Elysées.  Their Jean-Christophe Peraud came in second place and Romain Bardet sixth.

Peraud, who crashed but recovered in Paris — proving the final stage is more than ceremonial — said:

I had realised yesterday already with the tears, I was aware of the importance of my performance. I never do things simply, I added a little last-minute handicap. I had that idea that something would happen. I was used as a skittle, I was pushed aside by the whole peloton. According to Christophe Riblon, there was a bottle on the tarmac that cause a big wave and I was taken down. It added a little bit of stress. I needed a little bit of spice on the last day.

It was above all moving after the time trial, now I put things back in perspective and I could take advantage of the nice view of Paris …

Bardet sounded apologetic for coming in sixth, then predicted great things in future:

… it’s only my second Tour de France, I lack a little bit of experience at times. But 6th is early a great performance. There is really a big generation in France. With Thibaut [Pinot, see below], we’re going to battle it out in the years to come, but there is also a good international opposition. To ride that fast and that young at such level, it’s good for the future. Now we’re going to spend a good evening together with the team and the family. We achieved a great collective performance in the first place.

Thibaut Pinot from FDJ (Française des Jeux) won Best Young Rider and came third in the overall classification:

The objective was the top 10, we knew the white jersey would come along as well. It’s the way I am, I love to attack, I love to have fun in the climbs. That’s bike riding the way I see it …

Bernard Hinault was the last Frenchman to win the Tour … in 1985! Could 2015 be France’s year? I look forward to finding out.

In closing, this year marked Jens Vogt’s farewell Tour. Aged 43, he’s participated in 17 and will be sorely missed. He went out in style with a brief one-man attack on the Champs Elysées.

Also worth mentioning is this year’s lanterne rouge, Cheng Ji, China’s first participant in the Tour. Although he finished 164th and crashed in Paris, he provided useful pacing for his team, Giant Shimano, throughout. We wish him well in his recovery from his left elbow and knee trauma. It was a relief to find that he was able to finish the stage and avoid disqualification.

Roll on 2015 — vive le Tour!

Those who watch the Tour de France at home could be forgiven for not thinking very much of the podium ladies who present the stage awards and the various coloured jerseys on each day’s stage.

After all, we only see them at the end.

Yet, as Le Monde‘s blog En Danseuse — ‘standing on the pedals’ — explains, they have a full time job just as everyone else involved in this three-week endurance race does.

Henri Seckel interviewed the podium ladies who present Tour sponsor Antargaz’s daily award for the Most Aggressive Rider. This presentation isn’t usually shown on television, but it is for the rider who does his very best — despite physiological and environmental conditions — to finish a stage. However, he must put strategic and aggressive effort into his performance.

The ultimate winner of this accolade, officially known as the Combativity Award, is announced in Paris on the final day of racing — Sunday, July 27, 2014. One lucky losing rider will be in pocket:

Prize money: € 20,000 for the overall winner (€ 58,000 in total).

By contrast, the overall Yellow Jersey winner, who, this year, will be Vincenzo Nibali, will win over €1m.

More on Nibali in a minute.

The Combativity Award

First, to Henri Seckel’s interview with the ladies, Priscilla and Ophélie, who present the Antargaz award. The title of the blog post states that the Combativity Award is not a rubbish prize.

Ophélie explains that it goes to someone who has:

the courage, the pluck, the genius that gives the impression that he could be a stage winner or the best sprinter or the best climber. As there are riders who would like to win this award, it has value.

Becoming a podium lady

Now on to how the ladies got started with the Tour.

Ophélie says that she initially applied to be a driver:

I didn’t realise you had to have such a lot of experience. They said, ‘You won’t be able to do that, but we have something else for you.’

Priscilla had worked on the publicity caravan:

and if you really love the Tour, you want to know everything about it. But I told myself I probably didn’t have the right profile [for the podium].

When asked what the desired profile is, Priscilla said there wasn’t really any of which to speak. Ophélie said:

You have to be tall, at least. Then, not too ugly.

Seckel asked them if they feared being seen as airheads. Both said they were kept quite busy throughout the day, it’s just that most people don’t see them. Ophélie explained:

In the morning, we help prepare the stage departure, we’re running around, we’re welcoming Antargaz’s guests. Then we go to the middle of the stage where there are more guests; we welcome everyone, distribute gifts, then it’s on to the finish. The podium is only two minutes in our day. 

Easygoing and friendly

Seckel then fielded questions about women’s temperaments. As to whether there were ‘wars’ between hostesses from different sponsors, both women said that all the ladies were easygoing. Priscilla added:

The recruitment criterion is for easygoing people. We’re not tearing each other’s hair out.

But, Seckel asked, what about the women who present the yellow jersey? Was there any envy on the part of those who weren’t selected for that?  Ophélie said that no one makes a big deal out of it:

Of course … it’s highly prestigious. But the day-to-day job is still the same.

When asked how they were treated by spectators or guests, Priscilla said that the ladies who work only in the caravan suffer any number of verbal insults, but the podium ladies are treated with great respect. The riders, she makes clear, are nice to everyone.

Post-Tour blues

Such is the experience of the podium lady that, post-Tour, it’s a bit of a wrench getting readjusted to normal life. Ophélie explained:

It’s such a huge event — you’re in a bubble, in a little cocoon. The first time, they tell you: ‘You’ll see. By the end, you’ll be in tears.’ Because you’re totally taken care of, lodged, fed, made beautiful, and then, all of a sudden, that’s it. You’re on the way home, on the train, all alone, no one recognises you because you aren’t carrying anything branded Antargaz, no one smiles, no one says hello.

Priscilla felt the same:

The first year, I said, ‘Nah, I won’t cry, I’ve only known you for three weeks.’ And, frankly, I never cried harder in all my life. The Tour family is not a myth. We see each other afterward, go on holiday together — it’s really impressive.

Podium choreography

I suspect that people who watch a stage all the way to the end for the podium presentations are those who insist on watching all the credits at the end of a film. I am one of those people.

Those of us who do watch the podium presentations know how well synchronised they are. Nothing is out of place. Everything goes like clockwork.

Priscilla and Ophélie said that everything is rehearsed again and again, down to the last detail. It’s not unusual for the podia to be marked for positioning one’s feet and one’s distance from the rider.

They both said that even the slightest faux pas must be avoided, including touching one’s hair. Hence the need for lots of hairspray pre-podium.

Watch the 2013 final awards in Paris (at 1:00 in) to see how the women stand, how they applaud in a ladylike way and how expertly they do this aspect of their job, including the accomplished airkisses they give the riders:

Yet, one Yellow Jersey podium lady bucked the trend this year. In Sheffield, at the end of Stage 2, Vincenzo Nibali won the yellow jersey for the first time in his career. He’s gone on to win it every day since.

Huffington Post has a seconds-long replay in slow motion. The brunette with the bouffant made it look as if she were giving him a kiss but actually only grabbed his neck, pulling him towards her, leaving him covering for the incident by adjusting his collar.

You can see more in a news report via YouTube:


No one knows the dynamics behind her refusal to kiss him. Please note that Nibali did not say anything publicly afterward, certainly not as HuffPo’s title might imply. That particular remark came from someone online.

Although not asked about this incident, Le Monde‘s Seckel did want to know about the riders’ hygiene post-race. Ophélie told Le Monde that they are very clean by the time they reach the podium:

At the finishing line, they get into a little camping car where they have a nice wash, change their jersey and so on, so that when they arrive on the podium they’re spick and span.

I shall miss these insights — as well as the Tour — come next week. They’ve become part of my life, too.

Whilst many Western countries have long outlawed the practice of home burial, here in the UK it is still legal.

Television presenter Kirsty Allsop recently told the Independent how she and other family members buried her late mother in her parents’ back garden.

Home burial is illegal in many countries because amateurish digging and interring can contaminate the water table or interfere with utility cables or pipes.

In the UK families seeking to bury a loved one at home cannot act independently but must first contact the Environment Agency for formal permission, which consists of a permit and burial record as well as a procedure to follow for interment. The burial site cannot be close to a ditch or water source.

Furthermore, whereas landed gentry have the space to inter many deceased relatives, the average British homeowner will not be able to bury many, probably only one or two.

Whilst the Natural Death Centre fully support home funerals and burials, they also have a word of advice when it comes time to sell the property. The organisation’s Rosie Inman-Cook writes:

… if a vendor fails to declare the presence of a body or two, then the new home owner would have good justification to successfully obtain permission to exhume, maybe even suing the vendor for the cost of that gruesome process.  However, these properties do sell.  I often wonder, if we all called in the archaeologists, how many of us would discover we have Saxon or Roman remains under our homes? Would that then bother us?

One of the commenters on Kirsty Allsop’s article remembered his family funerals being handled largely at home, except for interment at the local cemetery, until 1950.

He wrote of a British experience, but it was also widespread in the United States.

My grandparents and their friends were accustomed to laying out the deceased at home for a day or two and receiving visitors during that time. A rota of family were on hand from morning until late evening to greet those wishing to pay their last respects.

A more recent scene of this practice is in the 1971 film Get Carter — the original, starring Michael Caine — which takes place in Newcastle. Early in the film, Jack (Caine) sees his brother’s body for the last time in his house before the undertakers arrive to put the lid on the coffin and remove it for burial.

Today, of course, most of us are accustomed to no viewing at all (Britain) or a period of open-casket visitation at a funeral home (the US). Whatever the custom, the undertaker generally takes care of everything.

It is surprising — even with cremation — how expensive funerals can be here and elsewhere. I know of a recent one in the US where cremation and related costs amounted to $3,500 versus $13,000 for body burial at a pre-purchased cemetery plot two hours away. (The plot had been purchased 60 years beforehand, so does not figure in the costs cited here.)

Therefore, it is no wonder that those who can are increasingly opting for home burial. It won’t be for everyone — either practically or emotionally — but many in Britain are glad they have the freedom to go ahead with a plan that makes them feel closer to their loved one. As the Natural Death Centre says, it can also help with the grieving and healing process.

July 15 is St Swithun’s Day in England.

Although this great bishop died on July 2, 862 — the date of death normally determines the feast day — his burial place was changed a century later on July 15, after he was canonised.

It is this translation — change, movement — of burial place which is behind the legendary saying which predicts 40 further days of whatever weather occurred on July 15.

Britannia Biographies tells us that Swithun was one of the most learned men of his time. He spent his ministry in Winchester, first at the monastery attached to the cathedral, later becoming the prior there, then as bishop of the diocese.

However, Swithun was also well known for the churches he had built in areas where there had been none and for repairing existing churches which had become damaged.

Swithun also had a bridge built in the eastern part of Winchester. He used to sit nearby in an effort to encourage the workmen there. One day, malicious workmen on the site broke a basket of eggs belonging to an elderly woman. Swithun is said to have miraculously restored the eggs.

Swithun also mixed in royal circles, acting as tutor for King Aethelwulf of Wessex as well as his son, who later became King Alfred. Aethelwulf had to fight off invading Danes; despite this, he was known for his wise rule. He was also very religious and intent on spreading the Christian faith throughout Wessex. His youngest son, Alfred, was able to repel further Danish invasions by negotiating the Danelaw in 886, which partitioned England and gave Danes control over the eastern regions of Anglia and parts of Mercia. Alfred is also known as the Father of the English Navy. He codified law and translated Latin books into Anglo-Saxon. His rule was such that he is known as Albert the Great, and visitors to Winchester can see his statue there.

Therefore, evidence of Swithun’s influence can be seen through these kings’ lives. In the 10th century, Winchester Cathedral — previously dedicated to Sts Peter and Paul — was rededicated to their beloved, holy bishop.

Incidentally, Vic the Vicar! has the readings for Swithun’s feast day.

As for the weather legend, prior to his death, Bishop Swithun left instructions that he be buried in the cathedral grounds:

where ‘passers by might tread on his grave and the sweet rain from heaven might wet his grave’.

After his canonisation 100 years later, a golden shrine to Swithun’s memory was erected in Winchester Cathedral and his remains were translated — moved, transferred — there in 971. It had already been raining too frequently for the cathedral workers to transfer his remains near July 2, so this was done on July 15.

The ensuing legendary 40 days of rain caused the people of Winchester at the time to assume that Swithun’s spirit was most unhappy at being transferred from a humble resting place outdoors to a gilded one inside the cathedral.

Although this became a local legend initially, it spread throughout England and continues to be well known today. The ancient rhyme is as follows:

St. Swithun’s day, if thou dost rain,
For forty days it will remain;
St. Swithun’s day, if thou be fair,
For forty days ’twill rain na mair.

Britain’s Met Office told the Daily Mirror on St Swithun’s Day 2014 that there is no truth to this prediction:

“While the story is compelling, it’s not entirely backed up by historical records and, similarly, when it comes to the weather folklore it’s not backed up by weather statistics.

“Numerous studies have been carried out on past weather observations and none of them have proved the legend true. In fact, since the start of records in 1861, there have neither been 40 dry or 40 wet days following the corresponding weather on St Swithin’s Day.”

However, note that their data deal only with 1861 to the present. Who knows what happened before then?

In fact, several European countries have a similar saying relating to their own saints. In France, it is St Gervais Day (July 19). In Germany, Seven Sleepers Day (July 7), commemorating a group of young martyrs from 3rd century Ephesus, is said to determine the weather for the next seven weeks.

In what used to be Flanders — today’s northern Belgium — the month of July was known as Wedermaend, which means ‘month of storms’.

It would seem, therefore, that there is some truth to these sayings and legends.

WeatherOnline takes a different line to the Met Office. Perhaps the Met should read their informative article on the jet stream and European summer weather. Excerpts follow (emphases in the original, purple highlight mine):

Whoever told the story about the St. Swithun’s day saying was obviously well aware that summer weather patterns establishing by the beginning to the middle of July tend to be persistent throughout the coming few weeks. In fact this is statistically true in 7 to 8 out of 10 years.

The meteorological interpretation is quite straightforward. The position of the frontal zone around the end of June to early July, indicated by the position of the jet stream, determines the general weather patterns (hot, cold, dry, wet) for the rest of the summer. Like a little stream in its bed, the frontal zone tends to ‘dig in’ shortly after the summer solstice.

Try and prepare your own summer forecast with our expert maps. The 500mbar maps usually give a good idea about the position of the frontal zone. Have a look at them over the next two weeks and produce a DIY summer forecast valid until mid-August with a confidence of 70 to 80%.

No wonder the St. Swithun’s day rule is also know in other western European countries.

I shall try forecasting and report back at the end of August! Here’s WeatherOnline‘s map from July 16, 2014:

Height/Temp. 500 hPa GFS We 16.07.2014 12 GMT

A post I wrote for Orphans of Liberty today looks at the effect women bishops will have on the popularity and membership of the Church of England (CofE).

What follows is a summary of that post.

First, there is the matter of how the victory was engineered. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said that he’d received pressure from the government for the Synod to approve women bishops. Welby was ready to dissolve the Synod and reconvene it for another vote on the matter had it been defeated on July 14, 2014. In other words, keep voting until you get the ‘right’ result.

Second, no scriptural arguments were used, or at least these were not made public. Persuasion revolved around cultural norms and bringing the CofE into line with the 21st century.

Third, a number of Synod members who had voted against women bishops in 2012 changed their minds this year because they feared being deselected from the next Synod or were tired of the grief they received from people in their diocese.

It is clear that the CofE is increasingly moving away from scriptural tenets. The co-founder of Orphans of Liberty — and one of my readers — James Higham has written an excellent essay exploring why and how England’s established (state) church is failing.

Women bishops won’t fix a thing. (Women priests didn’t.) Nor will allowing single-sex church wedding ceremonies, which may well be a topic at the next Synod. Nor will support of euthanasia.

The CofE has become merely another social club which goes along with popular culture — the world — at every turn.

Who wants to get out of bed on a Sunday when one can get the same talking points from the media?

As I said at Orphans of Liberty, a small number of people will continue to go to other denominations or to independent churches which are faithful to the Bible.

Sadly, many more will choose to leave the Church altogether.

The CofE’s USP is its frequent Communion services. However, it is difficult to receive the Sacrament from a priest who embraces the world so fully, as many of our clergy do.

Yet, even there, Article XXVI of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion states:

… Neither is the effect of Christ’s ordinance taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God’s gifts diminished from such as by faith and rightly do receive the sacraments ministered unto them, which be effectual because of Christ’s institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men.

That said, the Anglican Church is expected to depose such clergy. Article XXVI concludes:

Nevertheless it appertaineth to the discipline of the Church that inquiry be made of evil ministers, and that they be accused by those that have knowledge of their offences; and finally, being found guilty by just judgement, be deposed.

It should come as no surprise that the CofE considers the Thirty-nine Articles as ancient history to be disregarded.

Much the same way they consider Holy Scripture: old-fashioned and out-of-date.

After two days in Yorkshire ‘up hill, down dale’, Stage 3 of the Tour de France’s 2014 concluded in London, along the Mall near Buckingham Palace.

The Guardian carried glowing reviews — along with a selection of photos — of Stage 3 which began in the heart of Cambridge and continued through picturesque villages in Essex prior to hitting the nation’s capital.

The paper’s Sean Ingle reported:

On the final day of the English Grand Départ, crowds were similar in volume to those in Yorkshire, against a contrasting backdrop, with Cambridge’s King’s Parade first up, then cornfields, village greens and half-timbered houses giving way eventually to ranks of suburban houses, the Olympic velodrome and the ArcelorMittal Orbit before the Docklands light railway and the Thames appeared, after which the stage became a high-speed tour of London’s most iconic monuments: Tower Bridge, the Embankment, Big Ben.

In another article, he wrote:

Someone having their lunch in Piccadilly Circus a few hundred metres from the Mall, the finish of Monday’s third stage, wouldn’t have necessarily known that the world’s biggest bike race was about to steamroller through the nation’s capital. It was just one attraction among many. But as it neared its conclusion, and office doors opened and crash barriers swelled with the curious and the hard core, there was a strong sense of deja vu. London, like Yorkshire, had been smitten. Some even suggested the crowds were bigger than for the road races at the 2012 Olympics.

And it wasn’t just London. Saffron Walden swelled. Chelmsford clogged up. There were thousands in Epping Forest. And even along the long stretches of road between conurbations, where there was little but wheat or field or fauna, there were often lone cheerleaders urging the riders on. Union jacks were everywhere. It was like the Proms had started two weeks early – except the orchestra was thousands of times larger, and they were using klaxons and hands as their instruments.

Essex had far fewer of what I call field ornamentation — huge, decorative displays in farmers’ fields. Yet, as Ingle says, the spectators’ enthusiasm was excellent, particularly considering that it was a Monday.

However, after a sunny weekend in Yorkshire, the riders experienced a shower in central London which came right before the finish line. This made the final kilometre or two dangerous for them, especially as they had to negotiate quite a bit of ‘road furniture’ (e.g. bus lane dividers).

Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) won the stage with Peter Sagan (Cannondale) finishing second. Astana’s Vincenzo Nibali wore the yellow jersey for the second day running.

London’s Evening Standard has a collection of photos of the day’s cycling and all the crowds.

The final verdict from the head of the Tour, Christian Prudhomme, was:

amazing, unforgettable, and the grandest Grand Départ ever.

He is quite certain the Tour will return to Britain in future — it’s more a matter of when:

“I am very happy people want us to be back but I don’t know exactly when,” he said. “We have many requests to host the Tour: from Holland, Belgium, Italy and Spain.

“What I do know is that the welcome was exceptional. London in 2007 was very special but these three days were unforgettable. I’ve had so many messages saying how beautiful it looked, how many people there were on the roadsides. It might seem abnormal to some French people to bring the Tour to England. I can say to them: just watch!”

ITV4’s commentators said that the Dutch are closely studying these three grand days out in England in preparation for 2015’s Grand Départ in Utrecht. We wish them much success and hope it goes as well as ours did.

Credit must also go to France2 and France3 for making even the most modest village or unassuming highway look beautiful and inviting. These two channels supply the race footage we see on television. Their cameramen, especially those filming from a helicopter for the aerial shots, have a real eye for composition and detail. Coverage wouldn’t be the same without them. Chapeau — or ‘hats off’ to them!

As yesterday’s post stated, this year’s Tour de France Grand Départ was such a success that a high profile Tour of Yorkshire could take place as early as May 2015.

We owe these two grand days out (as Wallace might say to Gromit) to Gary Verity, the chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire. The yellow ‘Y’ seen frequently during the Tour’s coverage of the first two stages is his organisation’s symbol.

The Guardian tells us that Verity had an early career in the City — London’s financial district — before starting a new life as a sheep farmer in Coverdale. He and his late wife Helen moved to Yorkshire when she was diagnosed with cancer in 2009.

After Helen’s death, Verity threw himself into promoting Yorkshire as a tourist destination and got the Tour de France idea one morning whilst he was shaving. His fellow Yorkshiremen thought the idea was daft; after all, they reasoned, big events belong to rival Manchester, not Leeds, Harrogate, York or Sheffield.

The Guardian describes how events unfolded (emphases mine):

In the runup to the 2012 London Olympics, Verity sat on the nations and regions group and argued that Yorkshire needed its answer to Manchester’s 2002 Commonwealth Games …

He had borrowed a helicopter from a friend to fly in the French organisers of the Tour, including race director Christian Prudhomme. After a glass of lager and Yorkshire-pudding canapes, two stretch limos took the party on a tour of Middleham Castle, home of Richard III, Swinton Park and Harewood House. Dinner was provided by a Michelin-starred local chef and among the guests of honour was [Brian] Robinson, the first British winner of a Tour de France stage, back in 1958.

In the light of the Tour’s traditional links with the French equivalent of the National Farmers Union, Verity carefully stressed the agricultural angle, but the delegation’s visit ended with an urban coup de théâtre. On a walk through Leeds, the big television screen in Millennium Square switched from showing BBC News to a promotional film for Yorkshire’s bid, ending with a personal plea from cyclist Mark Cavendish.

“Christian Prudhomme’s jaw hit the ground at that point, and he later told me that was when he knew we could deliver the Grand Départ,” Verity has recalled. On the way to the Eurostar, Prudhomme confirmed that he was impressed. “Yorkshire,” he announced, “is very sexy.”

England has hosted Grand Départs before, most recently in London and Kent in 2007, with upwards of 1m spectators lining the routes each day. However, they are few and far between. Prior to 2007, these events took place in 1994 and 1974.

The British government favoured Edinburgh as a host city. After Bradley Wiggins won the 2012 Tour and won a gold medal at the London Olympics, Yorkshire ramped up the lobbying. By December that year, Verity had signed a contract with Tour organisers Amaury Sport Organisation and the government allocated £10m to Yorkshire, including £1.75m from UK Sport.

Verity told The Guardian that he even found Amaury Sport Organisation’s fee ‘incredible value for money’.

The impossible is often possible: where there’s a will, there’s a way! A knighthood for this man, who clearly deserves it.

ITV4 commentators told their viewers that schools, businesses and private individuals banded together to make July 5 and 6, 2014, a success. And so they were!

An estimated 4m people lined the routes from Leeds to Harrogate and York to Sheffield. To those of us watching the coverage, however, it looked like most of Yorkshire showed up. The roads were not only lined with people but also resonated with a wall of noise — everywhere — from the cities to the Côte de Buttertubs and Côte de Blubberhouses. More than one person remarked that English names sound so much nicer in French!

Stage 1 began in Leeds with a ceremonial start (départ fictif), riding through the city for the 280,000 spectators there. The official start took place at Harewood (pron. ‘Harwood’) House where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry greeted the riders and everyone enjoyed the magnificent flypast by the Red Arrows. A brass band played the French and British national anthems, the Duchess of Cambridge cut the tape at the starting line — and the riders were off.

The climbs on both stages pleased the riders whose physiques are suited for such challenges. The weather co-operated in making Yorkshire’s welcome a special one. The density of people and narrowness of the roads added to the excitement which sometimes turned tense as riders made their way up hill and down dale.

Mark Cavendish had a Stage 1 win in mind, as his mother grew up in Harrogate. She was in the VIP stands there, near Prime Minister David Cameron. Unfortunately, just before the finish line, Cavendish tried to squeeze in front of Simon Gerrans in a ‘gap that wasn’t there’ and both of them hit the ground. Marcel Kittel went on to win the stage as Cavendish was taken to hospital. Gerrans is still in the Tour. Cavendish underwent surgery on his shoulder on Wednesday, July 9, and will probably need six weeks of recuperation.

Stage 2 began in the heart of York and went on to include nine climbs in five counties, including a small part of Greater Manchester. Once again, the scenery was beautiful everywhere and the spectators wildly enthusiastic. Those of us fancying the ambitions of the three remaining English riders hoped Chris Froome, last year’s Tour victor, would win the stage which concluded in Sheffield, but that privilege went to Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali.

For those who have not seen the Tour de France before, watching an afternoon of televised coverage is better than an hour of highlights. The Tour is about much more than 192 men cycling; it’s also about the terrain, the people and the festive atmosphere. Yorkshire had it in spades.

French journalist François Thomazeau filed an article for The Guardian after the first two Tour stages. He concluded:

In 2007, the passion for cycling was already spreading, but nobody would have believed that two local riders could take the yellow jersey to Paris within six years …

Cycling is now a household sport and Britons know almost as much about the Tour as we do. Perhaps even a little more. At least they know how to win it, something we have not been able to do for 30 years.

It seemed as though the whole of Yorkshire had left their homes to form a guard of honour to the peleton. Entire villages had used their best French to write banners cheering “Le Tour”, while union jacks and tricolores were flying proudly side by side in the light breeze.

Will cycling really be coming home on Tuesday when the Tour heads back to France? I am not so sure any more.

Christian Prudhomme, the Tour’s director, said the first two stages had been:

very special. [Five-times tour winner] Bernard Hinault said to me it is the first time in 40 years on a bike that he has seen crowds like we saw this weekend.

What you did was good for Yorkshire, for sure, but what you did was also good for the Tour. When you said you would deliver the grandest Grand Départ it was the truth. You have raised the bar for all future hosts of the Tour de France.

Let’s hope this brings many more tourists to Yorkshire and future high profile cycling events.

Tomorrow’s post looks at Stage 3 from Cambridge to London.

Official 2014 Grand Départ MerchandiseThanks to the wildly successful Grand Départ of the 2014 Tour de France, Welcome to Yorkshire and Amaury Sport Organisation have submitted to the UCI a proposal for a three-day race scheduled for May 2015.

The event is provisionally called ‘Tour of Yorkshire’ and would be classified as a 2.1 UCI Europe Tour. This means that it would be aimed at attracting the world’s best cyclists as participants.

If the UCI approve the race, organisers hope that it would be a relatively regular feature on the cycling calendar.

The aforementioned press release includes enthusiastic quotes from Christian Prudhomme (Tour de France), Gary Verity (Welcome to Yorkshire) and Jonny Clay (British Cycling) on what could turn out to be an important and tangible legacy of the Tour de France for this beautiful English county, highlighted to the world on the first weekend in July.

The Grand Départ 2014 site also has a number of grateful tweets from Tour de France participants. Yorkshire gave them a superlative welcome, that’s for sure!

More on that tomorrow!

I noticed in the Telegraph jobs section that their job of the week (May 12, 2014) is for the Rector of St Bride’s in the City of London.

The current incumbent, the Venerable David Meara formally retired as rector on Easter Day 2014 but will stay on in a pastoral capacity until the end of July, at which time he and his wife Rosemary will return to Oxford.

Most Englishmen know that St Bride‘s is the church of those who work in some capacity with the written word — most recently in its history, journalists and photographers, even if newspapers moved out of the Fleet Street vicinity further east to Canary Wharf over 20 years ago. Their memorial services page includes the names of several journalists.

Historically, prior to the Reformation, communities of monks, such as the Blackfriars, lived near St Paul’s Cathedral, which looked much different before the Fire of London in 1666. As was true throughout Europe, these monks were responsible for creating manuscripts, some of which are in museums around the world, especially the British Museum.

When the printing press was invented during the Renaissance — also the time of the Reformation — William Caxton established his printing business in this same part of London because the cathedral and clergy would require books. By the 17th century, authors and poets lived in the area. They included John Milton, John Dryden and Samuel Richardson, among others. Richardson, incidentally, was a publisher prior to writing the first modern English novel, Pamela.

Today, St Bride’s is not only the church for those involved in media generally but is also affiliated with several of the ancient City and Livery Companies which grew out of the mediaeval guilds, specialising in nearly anything and everything to do with craftsmanship, from glovers to shipwrights.

Therefore, the future rector of St Bride’s needs to be able to communicate effectively not only with the great and good from the City, London’s oldest borough north of the River Thames, but also with a broad congregation of Londoners who worship there.

The new rector also needs to respect the church’s history, structure and worship traditions.

He must also be a strong, godly leader.

Of course, his primary responsibility is to preach the Gospel to all who enter St Bride’s and to pursue outreach work in Christ’s name.

To give you an idea of how Mr Meara carried out these responsibilities, an article on their website says:

He has greatly enjoyed his ministry at St Bride’s, during which the church has maintained and grown its links with the newspaper and wider media industry, completed a successful £3.5 million re-endowment appeal, expanded its involvement with the City and Livery Companies, grown its volunteer base, and maintained and enhanced the Sunday worshipping congregations served by their splendid professional choir. The fabric has been conserved and improved, and the first phase of an ambitious £2.5 million restoration project successfully completed.

As Archdeacon of London, David has overseen the development of thematic and pioneering ministries in a number of City churches, modernising their governance structures and raising the amount raised by City churches towards the Common Fund to nearly 100%.

A long-standing worshipper at St Bride’s, journalist and PR man Ernest Bevin, wrote an open letter of thanks to Mr Meara, who is also Archdeacon of London. It says, in part (emphasis in the original):

You will leave our famous Wren church, surely a gift from God, in even better shape than when you inherited it. Since your arrival, you must hold the world record for presiding at memorial services for the great and the good of the media world and beyond, not to mention the almost weekly baptisms, numerous weddings, other special services and the daily Eucharist. And then there were your many connections with the Livery companies in the City of London.  During all of this time, you demonstrated, without wanting to, what a gifted priest you are, with not a glimmer of faux grandiloquence either in meeting parishioners, or delivering your fascinating and often inspiring sermons.  I always felt, and many others agree, that your mission in life is admirably suited to your calling.

I was terribly impressed when you led the team to organise the Queen’s visit to St Bride’s in 2007 – which was almost 50 years to the day after she was in the church for its rededication. During the run up to that historical and wonderful event, it was almost as if you swapped your dog collar for a white shirt and a Guild tie, becoming Mr Unflappable without the slightest hint of panic in your voice or body language, riding us over problems as if they didn’t exist!

It came as no surprise when the Bishop of London appointed you to be his right hand man, which promoted you from Canon to Archdeacon. Now historically in the Church of England, Archdeacons have a bit of a reputation for being pompous, aloof or sometimes, bon viveurs.  But not you, David, you carried on preaching the Gospel as if nothing had happened, although we all knew that so much was happening in your ecclesiastical workload, but your beloved St Bride’s went from strength to strength.

The Bishop of London, the Right Revd Richard Chartres, sums up the type of person who would serve St Bride’s well:

What is required in my judgement is someone who is first and foremost a priest and pastor of character and commitment. The opportunities for ministering to those who operate in the stressful sphere of journalism are very great and the post requires someone of considerable talent.

I pray that St Bride’s finds a suitable new rector soon.  The post will require an extraordinary person!

You can read more about the job here.


BBC logoToday, four of us — three English and one hybrid — discussed the BBC’s Great British Menu, now in its ninth season.

This year, British chefs from across the UK — some who have at least one Michelin star to their name — are competing to cook for the remaining veterans of D-Day, who are able to attend a banquet at St Paul’s Cathedral, London. A good friend of mine remarked that he hoped the actual banquet would not take place in the cathedral proper. I agree. We shall have to wait and see.

SpouseMouse and I found the first four weeks lacklustre. Does one seriously expect the veterans —  ‘old soldiers’ in UK parlance — to eat cheap (albeit tasty) cuts of meat or fish such as pigeon, gurnard, or braising steak?

We’re talking about now elderly men who gave up their youth to fight for our freedom. Yet, oddly, ‘freedom’ or ‘liberty’ is never mentioned by the chefs cooking on this show. Granted, the chefs are young enough to be the veterans’ grandchildren, but there seems to be a disconnect as to the signifcance of D-Day itself.

D-Day refers to the Normandy landings of the Second World War which took place on Tuesday, June 6, 1944.

It was an unbelievably fraught time of anxiety, adrenaline, fear and courage combined with the spirit of Winston Churchill.

Twelve countries assisted Churchill’s United Kingdom. This post is not meant to describe what exactly happened. However, the Allies’ efforts ended in a magnificent victory for both freedom and liberty.

So, let us consider this so-called banquet. The Friday judges — the usual Great British Menu trio of Prue Leith, Matthew Fort and Oliver Peyton along with civilians and military personnel who remembered or took part in the Second World War — have to decide if each dish from a traditionally four-course menu is, as they say, ‘banquet worthy’.

Frankly, many — but not all — of the offerings from the previous four weeks have been dreadful.

A number of cheffy contestants have said, ‘I borrowed my nan’s ['grandmother's', please!] recipe for [something awful]‘.

These youngsters, as they appear, think they are novel in giving Britain’s finest men (and probably a few women) dishes they have probably eaten since being demobbed in 1944 to now.

Honestly, would anyone want humble dishes at a banquet?

So far, the only team of chefs who seem to fit the bill with banquet worthy food are those from the South East of England and London.

All of the aforementioned people discussing this show, myself included, wondered what these chefs would offer grandparents or parents celebrating their 50th or 60th wedding anniversaries. Probably lobster, caviar and all the very best meats or fish, accompaniments and desserts.

Whilst long-standing wedding anniversaries are certainly significant milestones in life, especially today, frankly, they do not compare with the British fighting alongside their Allies from around the globe for the freedom and liberty of the Western world.

Viewers’ hopes — at least those of whom I know — rest on a four-course banquet which recalls memories of wartime, Normandy landings and victory. However, we all hope that the chefs will really give these veterans the huge culinary thank you which they richly deserve.

A banquet alone does not suffice — and other celebrations are planned — but a superbly sumptuous feast will go some way to express a nation’s gratitude to a group of seniors who have seen more of life and death than many of us ever will.

Three weeks remain before we find out the results. May the best and most dignified dishes win.

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